A walk in hell. Photos by Heinrich Jost from the Warsaw Ghetto

Written by: Przemysław Batorski
On 19th September 1941, it was Wehrmacht sergeant Heinrich Jöst’s birthday. He wanted to see how life looked in the Warsaw Ghetto, officially termed by the Germans as the “Jewish residential district”. With his camera he took 140 photos. What did Jöst see “on the other side” of the ghetto wall?
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The Warsaw Ghetto. Pedestrians on Karmelicka street, visible buildings numbered 11-13. Photo by Heinrich Jöst


Heinrich Jöst was the owner of a hotel located in a German town. After the war broke out, he was drafted into the German army and was stationed around Warsaw. His 43rd birthday was on 19th September 1941. Making use of his free time, he went with his photo camera to the Warsaw Ghetto. He wanted to see why piles of corpses were removed from the “closed off area”, to which Poles and Germans, with the exception of special passes, it was prohibited to enter.

On the photos there are begging children in the ghetto, street handlers, Jews riding a rickshaw, a woman with a jug in her hand. You can see the tenement house on 25 Chłodna street, which still stands today, next to which was the gate to the ghetto, as well as, from January to August 1942, a footbridge that Jews used to cross over Chłodna street between the “small” and “large” ghetto. You can see an old Jewish man, who is taking his hat off in front of the German photographer – failure to do so would result in a beating, or even in being shot.

Heinrich Jöst survived the war. He didn’t say a word to anyone for decades about his collection of photos from the Warsaw Ghetto. He broke his silence in 1982 and showed the photos to the journalist Günther Schwarberg from “Stern” magazine. Part was published.

Relatively few photographs from the Warsaw Ghetto made it to be published. Some of the most valued are those captured by another German soldier, Joe J. Heydecker, photos preserved in the Ringelblum Archive, and the Heinrich Jöst collection.

Below we present selected photos by Heinrich Jöst. The entire collection of 80 photos from the collection of the Jewish Historical Institute can be viewed on the DELET website.

Photo captions written by Heinrich Jöst:


  1. A woman with closed eyes standing by a wall, on the torn posters, a symphonic concert by Szymon Pullman in the concert hall at 12 Rymarska street and a notice about the event at Cafe Ogród on 36 Nowolipie street. She was selling starched bands with the Star of David on them, and she looked as if she would die at any moment.
  2. Now I knew what the people were waiting for and why they were all looking in the same direction: a German soldier came with a steel helmet on his head and a rifle on his shoulder.
  3. I’ve never before seen people used as a means of transportation. I thought that something like that only exists in India.
  4. That man was just selling something. I don’t know what it was, maybe cigarettes? I noticed that little barefooted boy again on a September day.
  5. The hunger and suffering of the children didn’t show up on their faces, but rather on their clothes.
  6. I think it was Krochmalna. The man with the briefcase hurried across the street, as if he were going to the office. Maybe that’s where he was actually going. I didn’t only notice a lot of people, but also a lot of open windows. The people probably lived so close together, that they needed air all the time.
  7. I know that it was a «good» street in the centre, with a lot of pedestrians. A boy had a wound on his nose, besides that he still looked healthy. He was barefoot, though, like almost everyone, but the boy next to him with thin striped shoes who didn’t beg was the exception.
  8. I took this photo because it seemed so normal to me. If there were not two ragged women in the foreground, such a photo could be taken in any other place, even in Germany.
  9. Photo without a description; a Jew bows to Jöst, who photographs him.
Przemysław Batorski   JHI Web Editor